Toronto – Part 4: The Music

Neal and I went to folk music concerts at Hugh’s Room on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.  Immersion indeed.

First up was Lillebjorn Nilsen, a singer-songwriter from Norway.  He had come to Toronto to pick up an acoustic guitar made for him by Grit Laskin, a mainstay of a longstanding local group called “The Friends of Fiddler’s Green”.  Lillebjorn was so enthralled with his new instrument.  It was as if he was making love as he played.  Grit was pretty happy too.

Lillebjorn sang in Norwegian, which was fine for the large Scandinavian crowd at Hugh’s but a challenge for me.  Even though he sometimes gave a little description of the song beforehand, I was getting frustrated.  I love lyrics most of all.  At some point, though, I let go.  “Just be with Lillebjorn, Bruce.”  So I did.  The soul of the man flowed out of his mouth and out of his fingers.  He could have been reciting a grocery list.  It didn’t matter.  He loved his country.  He loved people.  He loved making music.

At the end of the evening, he pulled out a Norwegian fiddle … with nine strings.  Oh, how he could make that violin sing!  Sad, joyous, mesmerizing.  Thank you, Lillebjorn.


Our encore visit favoured us with the songs of Paul Simon, offered by seven individuals and groups – two pieces for each.  Some of the songs I’d never heard of.  And the best performances came from a trio of musicians – keyboard/vocals, lead guitar and bass guitar.  I’m sitting here trying to remember their songs, and I can’t.  But it doesn’t matter.  The fellows were brilliant together.  I remember the smile on the face of the lead guitarist as he played a long lick … in a trance, it seemed.  One rollicking tune featured the pianist belting out the melody while tickling the ivories with his left hand and banging the keyboard lid against the vertical surface of the piano with his right.  So cool.

Then there was the trio of East Indian descent who gave us “The Sounds of Silence” – an ethereal female voice accompanied by a sitar.  Otherworldly.  Finally, the whole crew went up on stage for a rousing version of “Slip Slidin’ Away”.  We were in love.


Day three featured Joanna Chapman-Smith, a Toronto singer-songwriter who had lost her voice during an illness, and had it magically return months later, to our immense benefit.  Joanna was such an original … rich love songs, some unusual melodies, storytelling mixed in with the singing.  The place was packed in celebration of her aliveness and virtuosity.  I struggled with the long stories and with some of the dissonant melody lines but I marvelled at her humanity.  Such a glowing face.

The biggest revelation for me was during the break between sets.  I listened to the one hundred of us talk.  It was a symphony of voices that seemed to get louder as the minutes passed.  First, I resisted.  After all, I’m a nice little Buddhist guy that needs his large doses of silence.  But then I started smiling.  It was music.  It was we humans embracing our fellows.  It was sweet.


Sing me a melody, please
Make it last long inside me
Sing me a melody, please
Give me a good vibration

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